Years built: 2006 to 2012
Bodystyles: Six-seat MPV
What is it?
The R-Class is neither the best-known nor best-loved Mercedes model of all time, but it is one that has gathered quite the cult following in recent years. As growing families search for cars with lots of seats and lots of space, this big Mercedes is starting to come back into fashion, thanks to its six-seat layout (seven seats for later models), big boot and exceptional levels of comfort. You’ll have to search hard to find a good one, and they’re pricey to tax, but the effort can be worthwhile.
Which one should I buy?
The R-Class was first introduced in 2006, and was for the most part only available with variations on Mercedes’ trusty 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, in R280, R300 and R350 CDI versions. Mechanically speaking, it’s essentially a lower-slung, longer-wheelbase second-generation ML-Class, sharing all of its mechanical items with that more popular 4x4.
With that huge interior, the R-Class’ party trick is having lots of seats, more seats than any other Mercedes model this side of a V-Class van. Early models had six seats in a 2-2-2 layout, but for later versions, Mercedes realised that what customers really wanted was the ability to seat five people and carry lots of luggage, so the R-Class was updated with a three-seat middle row and two folding seats in the boot. That boot is vast — fold the extra seats away and you have 869-litres of space in a standard-wheelbase model, and a whopping 1,000-litres of space in the long-wheelbase version. That’s the equivalent of having an entire Ford Focus cabin, seats folded down, and yet still have space for five passengers.
R-Class quality is generally very good (although as we shall see there’s a lengthy common faults checklist) and comfort and refinement levels are exceptionally high. Certainly, there was no other comparably luxurious seven-seater available at the time, and precious few even today.
The downside to all this is that reliance on a 3.0-litre diesel, which makes for expensive tax. Pre-2008 models will cost €1,400 a year to tax, while with 223g/km Co2 emissions, post-2008 R-Classes cost a still-hefty €1,200 for a tax disc.
How much should I spend? Less than €10,000 will get a pre-2008 R-Class, for a more recent car you’re probably going to have to shop in the UK, where STG£18,000 will get a 2012 car.
Here’s one we found:
2012 Mercedes-Benz R350 CDI LWB seven-seater, 67,000km, one owner, STG£17,900 from a main UK dealer.
What goes wrong?
Quite a lot, actually. Mercedes’ reputation for quality is excellent, but the R-Class does have a number of common faults that need checking out. If it has a panoramic glass roof, be aware that any repair work to that means the entire roof needs dismantling, driving up the cost considerably.
Older R-Classes can be prone to corrosion around the boot hatch. Turbo actuators can go, leading to inconsistent power delivery and surging and are viciously expensive to replace. Intermittent power loss can also be caused by a faulty air mass sensor, but that is much cheaper to fix.
Flat spots in the power delivery or excessive exhaust smoke can also mean a problem with oil flooding into the inlet manifold, which is again a very expensive fix. Faulty diesel injectors will cause a ‘chuffing’ steam-train like power delivery.
The R-Class came with the clever COMMAND infotainment system, but this is a known weak point and they tend to fail at about the four year mark. Check and see if the car you’re looking at has had a replacement, as again, it’s woefully expensive to fix.
There’s also a weak point in the column-mounted gear selector, which can break if it’s been grabbed and used as a support when getting in or out of the car.
Check for warning lights indicating a fault with the (you’ve guessed it, expensive) air suspension, while non-air suspension cars can develop cracks in their springs — check for a loud knocking and see if the car sits level when parked.
Finally, the seven-speed automatic gearbox is fragile, and yes it costs lots to replace.
Those looking for a non-diesel R-Class are limited to the rare R350 V6 petrol model, or the 310ho V8 R500 — even more rare but seriously fast and refined. Those looking for the ultimate school run vehicle should possibly try tracking down one of the 6.3-litre V8-engined AMG R63 models, which had a whopping 502hp for some serious performance. If you think the R500 V8 is rare, try tracking down one of those…
And when you’ve found your perfect Mercedes-Benz R-Class don’t forget to get it history checked by motorcheck.ie.